The Harry Potter franchise returns to theaters this weekend with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
Not only that, this year also marks the fifteenth anniversary of when the first Harry Potter film, The Sorcerer’s Stone, was released in theaters and launched one of the most successful film franchises in the history of the cinema.
So, to celebrate both occasions, I decided to rank all eight Harry Potter films from worst to best. Now, to be clear, I do in fact enjoy all of the films and this is one of my favorite film franchises, but even I know that the quality of each film differs from another. So, without further anticipation, here is my ranking of the Harry Potter films from worst to best:
8. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
The first film in the franchise does certainly have many strengths. Being it is the first film, director Chris Columbus does lay the ground work and plants the seeds in terms of conflict and characterizations where the other films would expand upon. Columbus does establish the world and characters of Harry Potter with just enough backstory and exposition to make it interesting and to easily follow as to what is happening. At the same time, however, some of that exposition and world building does seem to override the overall main plot at times. But then again this is the first movie, so it does make sense to have scenes in order to set some stuff up and I can give it a pass. Though the structure of the film does certainly feel like a chapter book and this can cause the pacing to be a bit off. I can also give it a slight pass because the story is interesting enough. What I can’t give a pass on is some of the special effects because some do not entirely hold up. The troll that attacks the bathroom and some of the flying scenes aren’t as convincing as I remember, but some actually are pretty good (the Quidditch scene is still pretty neat to look at).
Columbus also make the tone of the film entirely lighthearted, which is a stark contrast for the rest of the film’s of the franchise. That is not to say that Columbus strays away from character moments because there are some quieter moments that do work. It’s just that the film mostly has overtones of enchanted whimsy. This certainly isn’t a bad thing because the tone does reflect that age of the characters and the actors themselves convincingly manage to get across the childlike wonder and amazement when they experience the magic elements for the first time. While they would all give better performances in later films, the child actors are pretty good for the most part. So Columbus does capture the more innocent side of the story and characters before the darker and more mature elements come into play with appropriate intentions and it works very well. It is these mature elements, however, that would make the later films all the more exciting and emotional.
7. Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix (2007)
This film marked the fourth and final director change for the series as David Yates took over directing duties from this film until the end. I will say that this film starts off on an incredibly strong and thrillingly dark note with Harry and Dudley get attacked by demeanors, Harry fly through the London night, and a hearing at the Ministry of Magic on Harry’s use of the Patronus spell. It is unfortunate, however, that the rest of the film is not on par with the opening thirty minutes. The story for this film does feel a bit flat, which is weird considering that there is a lot going on from the corruption in the ministry as well as Harry building an army to fight Voldemort. Either that or I just did not find the story as interesting as some of the other films. That is not to say, however, that there isn’t some strong elements. The strongest element in the film is by far Imelda Staunton’s performance as the wickedly unlikable Delores Umbridge. She is down right despicable,but that does say a lot about Staunton’s performance. The Harry Potter series has shown a lot of villains, but Staunton’s performance is in the top three for sure. Another thing worth noting is that the series does continue in the trend of moving towards a mature tone, and this is especially true in the scenes where we see the characters experience first love. Yates does a wonderful job at taking some of the romance elements that have been building since the previous two films and pacing it in a way that does come across as genuine. Plus, other themes that are associated with adolescence, such as isolation and loneliness, are used particular well here. It is in these scenes that show a They are some of the strongest scenes in the film. If the story was a tad bit stronger then I would have probably ranked it higher.
6. Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Out of the two Harry Potter films Chris Columbus directed, this one is the best one he helmed. Compared to The Sorcerer’s Stone, this film is certainly more of a visual treat. For one thing, the special effects, specifically the flying car, the spiders, the serpent, the phoenix, and the Quddich match, have been upgraded and look a lot more convincing compared to the first film. Plus, the set pieces of Hogwarts are a bit more visually pleasing this time around. That’s not to say the first film didn’t look good, but this film expands on the school campus a bit more as well as introducing us to new locations that are great to look at. Though the film does somewhat keep some of the same lighthearted tones as the first one, Columbus does introduce some darker elements that are welcoming. It is because of these darker elements that make the stakes feel all the more important in its action scenes. While later films would utilize darker and mature elements a bit better, Columbus does make it work here.
At a 161 minutes this film is notably the longest of the Harry Potter films, which could be due to the fact that Columbus may just be a bit too faithful to the book. While it could have been trimmed down somewhat, this film does flow well and what makes the film an interesting watch is the actors’ performances. This is the film where I think Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson start to really grow into their roles and all three manage to establish their strong chemistry. Sure, the three actors did manage to establish a strong chemistry in the first film, but this is the film where their friendship really started to feel deep and genuine. So much so, that it would be carried over and managed to stay like that throughout the rest of the series. Columbus does devote a few great quiet moments that allows their friendship to really grow and feel real. Plus, Columbus does a good job at establishing the fierce rivalry between Harry and Draco Malfoy. While the rivalry is apparent in the first film, Columbus does present it a bit better here, such as featuring the two characters in a brutal Quidditch match. This is in contrast to their establishing rivalry in the first film, which featured scenes of innocent tattling. In this film, you can feel the hatred the two have (much more than the first) because of the way they compete in the Quiddatch match. It is scenes like these that make the mature elements all the more welcoming. Plus, Kenneth Branagh’s performance as the egotistical Gilderoy Lockhart is a delight and practically steals the show.
5. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (2005)
This film marked the third directorial change as Mike Newell took up directing duties. What I applaud Newell the most for this film is that he takes the series to darker places than before. The series began to progress to a mature tone in the previous film, but Newell took it and expanded it even further by making the action much more brutal and bringing out mature themes as the characters develop into adolescence. The opening sequence is pretty spectacular and the action scenes that involve the Tri-Wizard tournament are excitingly thrilling and gritty (and they all look visually great). The underwater scene is one of the highlights of the film, and it is this scene that really embodies the change of tone that the series started to take. Perhaps the most notable element of the film is that Newell provides a lot moments of first romance and these scenes feel like right out of a high school drama and the actors do convincingly bring out traits of awkwardness, jealousy, and confusion. The coming-of-age aspect of the series has always been one of the strongest elements of the series and this film does very well. This film also introduced us to Brendan Gleeson as Mad Eye Moody (one of the best characters in the series) and it also marked Ralph Fiennes first appearance as Lord Voldemort. I’ll just say right now that he gives a terrifyingly chilling performance that would continue throughout the rest of the series. The pacing, however, does feel a little bit off at times since there are a lot of plot lines being juggled, which I think keeps it from being higher on the list. But there is still a lot of good in this film.
4. Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince (2009)
In terms of style and tone, The Half Blood Prince may be the bleakest of all the Harry Potter films. I personally consider it to be the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise. The development of the characters into adolescence manages to be one of the high point of the film, especially when it comes to the friendship and romance between the characters. The scenes that involve romantic awkwardness and jealously are engaging and it is in these scenes that really help bring the film down to a human level that is relatable and identifiable (it also provides some good humor that helps brings some levity to a dark film). Despite the fact the film is a fantasy and there are big stakes happening, these scenes are just as compelling. This film also includes Michael Gambon’s best performance as Dumbledore. The scenes between Gambon and Radcliffe really help bring out the deep emotion (some of the best in the franchise) in this film. Their individual scenes together really make this film as good as it is. The film also features some very good cinematography that really brings out the appropriate dark tone of the film. Not the strongest nor the weakest of the series, but there are a lot of things to enjoy.
3. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
This film is a lot stronger than I had previously remembered, and watching it again for the first time in years made me realize how much good there really is in this film. In fact, I almost put this film at #2, but it is at #3 for reasons that will be made later. That being said, this film does what a lot of other “Part I” films don’t, in that this actually feels like a complete film. A lot of “Part I” films are mainly just exposition and build up for Part II without a whole lot going on and most of them abruptly end. While there are some moments like that in this film, it isn’t as obvious and it doesn’t feel like half a movie. The film mainly consists of Harry, Ron, and Hermione looking for the Horcruxes that includes a lot of camping and quiet moments, but these scenes are kind of great. It is a refreshing change of pace for the series as this film does not take place at Hogwarts and instead it is mainly set in various locations, mainly in the woods. These scenes do include some striking and beautiful shots (some of the best in the entire franchise). Also, since this film takes place away from Hogwarts, this film mainly focuses on scenes that include just Harry, Ron, and Hermione with mostly dialogue driven scenes. What is so great about the film is how the three actors manage to convey emotion and tension mainly through their dialogue. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson by now had developed great chemistry with each other and their scenes together make what could have been a rather meandering film into something a bit more sophisticated that is almost on par with the #1 film on this list. This film is mostly a character driven story as we see our heroes more mature and grown up than ever. They had the guidance of adults before, but now they are mostly on their own and this does lead to some strong quiet moments. The film may be light on some of the action, but the film features some of the best actions scenes in the entire franchise, such as the scene where Harry tries to escape the Death Eaters and the scene of them running the woods towards the end. Plus, the contains one of the most heartfelt moments out of all the films and the animated scene where Hermione tells the story of three brothers is brilliant. This is, I think, the most underrated film in the franchise and is a lot stronger than you may remember.
2. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II (2011)
While I do think that Part I is a stronger film overall (and it does feel more like a complete film), the reason why I am putting this film at #2 is because of the sheer and powerful scope of the film’s emotion and spectacle. The stakes for this film are obviously bigger than the previous films and this can be felt in the film’s rapturously thrilling action scenes, such as the attack on Hogwarts and the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort. The franchise has been building up to this moment and the payoff is satisfying as all of our favorite characters get in on the battle scenes. Plus, the film is not without its charm either. The scene where Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into the vault is somewhat reminiscent of the lighthearted moments of earlier films (and the cart sequence is great). However, it is the film’s grand emotion that really makes it work. The Harry Potter films have some great emotion scenes, but those moments in this film work to great effect. The flashback involving Severus Snape is perhaps the emotional highlight of the entire franchise, and Alan Rickman’s performance as Snape in this film is one of the best performances of his career. It is a shame that he sadly passed away as he proves in this film (and the entire franchise for that matter) that he was a tremendous talent. I have always wished that the final film had not been split into two parts as this film and Part I edited together and released as one film could have made an epically grand finale that could have been something like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in terms of great film finales. What we do get, however, is a film that does end on a triumphant note that is epic and is full of great emotion.
1. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The third film of the series was directed by Alfonso Cuaron (who took over for Chris Columbus) and he shifted the series from innocent and lighthearted into much more mature territory that would continue throughout the rest of the series. Columbus did present some dark elements in The Chamber of Secrets, but it was Cuaron that really took the franchise into much more serious territory. This really shows in its dark visuals with the dementors (who look great) and its often gloomy and grim cinematography (this is the best looking Harry Potter film as every shot looks like something out of a painting). Cuaron brings great sophistication to the film by making it half fantasy film, half character drama. While the the technical aspects and the visuals are great, Cuaron manages to balance out the magical elements with engrossingly quiet moments. Half the film is basically a character study as Harry, Ron, and Hermione start to enter adolescence. Even though the threats are become bigger, Cuaron has the brilliant idea of making this film on a much more smaller scale because of that character focus narrative. We see the characters go through changes like most adolescents would, such as Harry becoming a bit more rebellious to his cruel aunt and uncle. The film does feature Harry feeling a bit lonely at times, which is something that we all go through during adolescence, and Cuaron masterfully manages to interweave its fantastical/magical story elements into this theme. He does create a much more engrossing story because he puts a bit more depth to the characters. From minor things like the clothes they wear and the broadening of personalities of the characters, this film feels like something out of a relatable high school drama. Yet, at the same time, since the characters are getting older, the threats are becoming bigger and stakes feel bigger as a result. That is not to say that the film isn’t without its fun/lighthearted moments too because the Knight Bus sequence is one of the best moments in the entire franchise. The Prisoner of Azkaban encompasses all the great elements of the Harry Potter films into one from the whimsical and fun magic to the dark and mature character moments and visuals. Thanks to a smart and complex script, some great performances from the entire cast (especially from Gary Oldman and David Thewlis), and memorable imagery, The Prisoner of Azkaban is not just the best Harry Potter film, it’s one of the best fantasy films ever made.